Women share stories on hygiene practices and self-realization
10 years ago it was impossible to mention the subject of female hygiene in the rural area. Now people can openly discuss menstruation and talk about making hygiene pads. Social norms related to gender and menstrual hygiene are slowly changing.
However there is a long way to go. This shows the persistent continuation of the harmful Chhaupadi practice that prescribes that menstruating women have to sleep in Chhau huts in parts of Sudurpashchim and Karnali (see text box).
“Intergenerational dialogue contributes to better understanding of existing behavior patterns and helps to find levers for positive change”
37 Sasu-Buhari (mothers in law and daughters in law) came together in Dilashaini Rural Municipality to by share personal stories about their lives and discuss issues of female hygiene and women self-realization.
The objective was to analyze and discuss problems related to behavior change and menstruation. The approach was to stimulate positive thinking related to menstruation at home, work environment and in the community.
Women shared heart touching stories about their struggles they had faced during their lives. The stories were categorized by the issues: gender related, wash related, or menstruation management related and some stories included disability. Groups were formed dividing literate and illiterate women.
After the women became aware of their own situations they started to discuss gender based discrimination in the family and community during menstruation. In the discussion people gave examples of discrimination in the household related to daughters compared to the sons, cases of discrimination of the daughter in-law in relation to the sons, and discrimination of the daughter in-law in relation to the mother in law.
Women realized that they understood little of the traditional behavior and why so many households faced gender based discrimination.
Women of both generations realized that this pattern of
behavior had a direct impact on family and community.
The next session was about the concept of behavior change in relation to total sanitation in the community. Why hygienic behavior is important to achieve Total Sanitation and what is its effect on our lives?
As a result of the two days’ workshop women realized it was important to change unhealthy behavior. They agreed that they want to improve the hygiene practices and behavior so they can feel more comfortable at home. They realized that they also needed support to convince that people who are still clinging to the harmful behavior in sanitation and menstrual hygiene.
Another session was on menstrual hygiene management. The women discussed the social taboos and traditional menstruation practices. One subject was to discuss the myths around menstruation. It was shown that there is no scientific reason for the untouchability of menstruating women. The cultural roots for the behavior were analyzed and some aspects of common ground were used to move forward. Many women were and are still facing the big challenge to maintaining personal hygiene and use of toilet. If we say that cow urine has a purifying power can we not use it to purify the toilet? Participants agreed and were convinced that this could be a solution to use the toilet. Most of the participants found using separate water containers to carry water for toilet use also acceptable adaptation. The method of intergenerational discussion was used to make the women aware about their traditional behavior and how it could change over time.
One participant remarked in her speech what she had learned from the workshop. She said both generations had faced many challenges and bad experiences in life but we learned many things. Now we are talking about to improve our habits and life.
“We have to abandon the myths around menstrual behavior and improve hygienic behavior on sanitation to create the model community that we need to improve our lives".
The discussion continued on the special challenges of disabled people. Each household has old people but the toilets and washing facilities are not clean and inappropriate for disabled people. This leads them to continue open defecation practice. Participants were advised to maintain good quality clean toilets in respect of the elderly and disabled people who need to use them.
During the three workshop women shared personal stories about how discrimination, indignity and social taboos in relation to menstruation impacted their lives. Sharing the heart touching stories increased awareness in both generations of the situation of women in the family and community. Through the stories both generations of women became aware about the possibility for a gradual changing behavior. The older generation faced more challenges due to their deep believe in traditional social norms and long habits of women limitations. However, the new generation saw more opportunities for changing behavior over time and expressed positive expectations for self-realization and developing themselves. They were determined to build sanitation structures and go for the total sanitized status of the house and community. By improving the sanitation they were taking away a factor restricting women’s use of toilets, access to water tap and kitchen during the menstruation. They realized that supporting disabled and elderly people easy access to use of toilet would contribute to the community sanitation.
Disabled friendly toilets will make it easier to take care of the elderly in household.
Elderly people are also a kind of disabled because they cannot do thing like normal people and sometimes need much support for personal hygiene.
The daughter in law is in charge of the elderly and has to manage it next to her other daily work. Disabled friendly toilets will make it easier to take care of the elderly in household.
“Through the stories both generations of women became aware about the possibility for a gradual changing behavior.”
The women were happy to get through the project access to improved WASH facilities at house hold level. All women also observed real changes in their own behavior compared to 15 years ago. This made it easier for the older generation to support changes to the harmful menstruation habits and reduce gender based discrimination.